the difference between an inverter and a generator News & Opinion

What’s the Difference Between An Inverter and a Generator?


The difference between an inverter and a generator might not be a massive one. After all, both accomplish the same task: they both burn fuel, which powers a motor that’s attached to an alternator, which then produces electrical power. But there are a few distinctions between the two in how they accomplish that job, and depending on your needs, it’s likely that one will work better for you than the other.

10-Second Summary

Generators:

  • Are less expensive
  • Use a mechanical alternator to produce raw power
  • Tend to be heavier, louder, and less fuel efficient, but can crank out a lot more power for a lot longer

Inverters:

  • More expensive due to high-level electronics used
  • Smaller, lighter, and more fuel efficient, but generally limited to around 4000W output
  • Produces cleaner power with less harmonic distortion, making them better for powering sensitive electronic equipment

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What’s the Difference Between An Inverter and a Generator?

Size & Weight

Generators, helpful as they are, aren’t necessarily the most sophisticated of portable powering solutions. Essentially, you’ve got a large engine encased in a metal roll cage with, hopefully, some wheels attached. That being the case, your standard generator can get pretty heavy and cumbersome.

the difference between an inverter and a generator

Contrast that with the more recently developed inverter. Because the inverter’s digital electronic alternator is usually combined with the engine’s flywheel, they have the tendency to weigh a lot less and take up less space. Therefore, they are more easily portable.

the difference between an inverter and a generator

Power: Quality and Output

Generators

Generators work pretty simply: the motor turns the alternator, which produces raw AC power. This brand of AC power might not be the “cleanest” power in the world, but there is a constant supply of a lot of it, whether you need it all or not.

That’s because the engine has to run at a constant rpm to generate electricity (generally 3600 RPM). This consistent speed produces consistent sound levels as well, which is a roundabout way of saying that your average generator will run pretty loud, as a general rule. Because the generator runs at a constant intensity, it’s easy to see where they might not be so fuel efficient.

the difference between an inverter and a generator

Having said that, generators have a much larger power output range than an inverter. They can push anywhere between 500W to 50,000W. And since they typically have large fuel tanks, generators can typically run for a decent amount of time before needing to refuel.

Inverters

Inverters operate with a bit more sophistication. Rather than running at a constant rate, the inverter can match its speed with the demands of the application. This variable speed results in much better fuel efficiency. With the slower speeds and mufflers in place, the inverter tends to run much more quietly than a generator.

There’s also the question about power quality to consider. An inverter produces AC power through its digital electronic alternator, which gets sent to a rectifier that changes it to DC current. It then travels through an inverter that flips it back to AC current. This produces a “cleaner” power with less than 5% harmonic distortion, making this power comparable, if not actually better than, the 120V you get from your wall outlets at home. So your inverter is a better charging option for sensitive electronics like phones and computers.

the difference between an inverter and a generator

The problem with your typical inverter, however, is that they don’t output all that much power. A typical range of 1000W – 4,000W will probably power a tool or two, a TV, or a handful of appliances, but you probably won’t find too many inverters that can run a jobsite or power your home in an emergency. You can usually take two identical units and parallel them together for double the watts out, however.

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Final Thoughts

Which is right for you, the generator or the inverter? It depends on two things: your budget and your power needs.

Inverters are definitely more expensive due to their high-level electronics. But if you’ve got the funds and you don’t need mass amounts of power, this is the quieter, cleaner option. It’s great for tailgating and some camping applications as it’s highly portable, but most Pros need more power for the job site.

If money is tighter or you need a metric butt-ton of power, stick to your standard, tried-and-true generator. It’s more cumbersome and definitely louder, but it has more raw power. Plus, if you’ve got a big enough generator, you can use it on the job or as emergency power the next time the storm knocks out your power.

 

 

 

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